Elias Olcott Beaman, Jr. was born to Elias Olcott and Susan Starks Beaman on September 13, 1837 in Chateaugay (Franklin County), New York. The senior Beaman was a successful merchant and hotelier, and provided a comfortable life for his family. Little is known about the junior Beaman’s childhood and education, but according to historian Richard A. Bartlett, one of his first jobs was as a Great Lakes ship pilot, an experience which left the young man “a bit cocky about his prowess in navigating a boat.” It can be presumed that upon his return to his home state of New York, he received some type of photographic instruction that led to his first known collection of stereographic views entitled, “Scenes on the Upper Hudson and the Adirondack Mountains.”
By 1870, Mr. Beaman had established a reputation as a landscape photographer in the Catskills region, often providing commissioned views for E. & H.T. Anthony. It is believed he met geologist and explorer John Wesley Powell through his association with the Anthony Company. Major Powell, obviously impressed with Mr. Beaman’s stereographs, invited him to join his Second Colorado River Expedition. With equipment he obtained from E. & H.T. Anthony, the young photographer outfitted his portable darkroom with several cameras, tripods, glass plates, and other specialty equipment which had a combined weight of more than 2,000 lbs. and cost more than $1,000. The surveying team left Green River in May of 1871, and included Major Powell’s cousin Walter “Clem” Powell, who served as the chief photographer’s apprentice; and boatman and camera enthusiast John “Jack” Hillers. The rugged canyon terrain was not the least of Mr. Beaman’s photographic challenges. His preferred wet-collodion process only gave him a 10-minute window for image completion before the glass plate dried. Nevertheless, he managed to produce the first views of the Flaming Gorge Reservoir, and the Cataract, Desolation, Glen, and Lodore canyons.
As the group entered the Arizona Territory, Mr. Beaman sought to photograph local Native American residents, which included Navajo Chief Ashtishkel. Much to his surprise, as he later recalled, “Contrary to my expectation… they cheerfully agreed to allow me to take their photographs.” By now, it was becoming clear that Jack Hillers had the photographic prowess Clem Powell lacked, and he was promoted to first assistant. The expedition spent the winter of 1872 in Kanab, Utah, where a dispute between Mr. Beaman and Major Powell eventually resulted in the photographer leaving the team, but not before he captured nearly 3,000 images of Native Americans and the Grand Canyon. Replaced by Jack Hillers, the discord between Mr. Beaman and Major Powell continued for years afterwards, transforming the former friends into fierce competitors. The photographer shrewdly marketed his images first, despite Major Powell’s claims that he owned the rights to the negatives. Mr. Beaman’s firsthand account of the expedition, illustrated with lithographs, was published in Appleton’s Journal in April and May 1874 as part of “The Cañon of the Colorado and the Moquis Pueblos” series.
Fascinated by Yellowstone National Park, Mr. Beaman produced several impressive oxy-hydrogen stereopticon lantern slides of the region (now, sadly lost), which were later featured in lecture presentations and at the 1876 Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition. Unfortunately, 39-year-old E. O. Beaman contracted meningitis, which caused his death on October 15, 1876, in Camden, New Jersey. Today, Mr. Beaman’s stereographic views may be found in the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles, California, Harvard Art Museums (9 stereographs) in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, NY, George Eastman Museum in Rochester, NY and the Library of Congress in Washington, DC.
2017 E. O. Beaman – Jeremy Rowe Vintage Photography (URL: https://www.vintagephoto.com/reference/stereolists/702beamanlist.htm).
2010 Find A Grave: Elias Olcott Beaman (URL: https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/61180797/elias-olcott-beaman).
2005 Flowing Downstream and Against the Current: E. O. Beaman, Survey Photographer and Writer with John Wesley Powell’s Geological Survey of the Green and Colorado Rivers, in 1871-1872 by Charles B. Miller (URL: https://search.proquest.com/openview/8ff056cb0ac83ca803a1660ea312f49e/1?pq-origsite=gscholar&cbl=18750&diss=y).
2007 Green River by Terry del Bene, Ruth Lauritzen, Cyndi McCullers, and the Sweetwater County Historical Museum (Charleston, SC: Arcadia Publishing), p. 27.
1997 In a Sacred Manner I Live edited by Neil Philip (New York, NY: Clarion Books), p. 59.
2009 Painters of Utah's Canyons and Deserts by Donna L. Poulton and Vern G. Swanson (Layton, UT: Gibbs Smith), pp. 13-14.
2002 Photography: A Cultural History by Mary Warner Marien (London, UK: Laurence King Publishing), p. 155.
1902 The Romance of the Colorado River by Frederick Samuel Dellenbaugh (New York, NY: G. P. Putnam’s Sons), pp. 29, 48, 103, 266, 338.
Copyright © 2002 - 2019 Historic Camera